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    WedWednesdayMarMarch25th2015 Nicea for Today
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Church History Theology 1 comments Add comment

    Last week we talked about how our theology has been shaped by centuries of diligent Christians who have worked hard to articulate clearly and faithfully what the Bible teaches. While our beliefs are (hopefully) rooted in Scripture, the formulation of those beliefs is in large part the result of the historical definitions our spiritual ancestors have handed down to us.

    One of the most important places we see this play out is in the Nicene Creed. As its name suggests, the creed has its origins in the First Council of Nicea, a gathering of church leaders that took place in AD 325. A few decades later, it was revised at the First Council of Constantinople, taking the form that is now widely accepted and recognized by many Christians around the world.

    While it would be possible to write an entire book about this ancient confession of Christian orthodoxy, this week I would like to settle for giving you some quick highlights that might help you understand it better and appreciate its relevance for the church today. We’ll do so by taking a look at the four main subjects the Nicene Creed addresses. (You might want to take a moment to read it first.)

    The Father. Interestingly, there is relatively little in the Nicene Creed about God the Father. Yet in just a few words it affirms that he is the powerful, transcendent Creator from whom all things (both visible and invisible) have their origin. This simple affirmation reminds us that our God is not a small and impotent deity, but rather a gloriously majestic Lord who has made oceans and mountains and planets and stars at the command of his word. He demands our reverence, fear, and worship.

    The Son. By and large, the most hotly contested theological debates in the first few centuries of the church surrounded the issue of Christology. Who is Jesus? What did he do? How should we understand him? It is not surprising, therefore, that the majority of the Nicene Creed deals with answering these very questions.

    The creed maintains two vital (and paradoxical) truths. First of all, Jesus is fully God. He always has been and he always will be. He is not similar to the Father; he is of the same essence as the Father. Even today, many people believe that Jesus was a spiritual teacher or that he embodied certain divine ideals. But the creed is unequivocal: the Son of God is God.

    Secondly, the creed maintains that Jesus became a man (fully and completely) in order to accomplish the work of redemption. Without compromising any of his divinity, Jesus entered our world and took on flesh. And why? Well, one of my favorite phrases sums it up well: “for us and our salvation.” Jesus came to die and rise again so that we might be saved.

    The Holy Spirit. In the same way that the Son is fully God, the creed also affirms that the Spirit is fully God. Many of us think of the Spirit as some mystical ghost-like thing that whooshes here and there making people feel warm and fuzzy. But this is an entirely deficient understanding. The Holy Spirit is a person, and he is to be worshiped and glorified.

    The Church. In a world filled with thousands of Christian denominations, the creed brings us back to the important doctrine that the Bible teaches: there is only one true church. We Protestants might get hung up on the word “catholic,” but we need not to. It simply means that the church of Jesus Christ is a global body that spans cultures, languages, geography, and generations.

    There is obviously much more that could be said about the Nicene Creed, but I hope you’re at least beginning to see that it is a treasure for the church. Not only does it help us know God; it helps us worship him. The enduring value of this ancient confession is that when we understand these fundamental truths about who God is and how he has worked to bring about redemption, our hearts are moved to sing and celebrate.

    ThuThursdayMarMarch19th2015 A Heritage of Belief
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged History Scripture Theology 0 comments Add comment

    Why do you believe in the Trinity? In the virgin birth? In the full deity and humanity of Christ?

    Your initial response to these questions is probably the correct one: Because that’s what the Bible teaches. But at the same time, that response might not tell the whole story.

    While it’s true that the Bible is the basis for all of these beliefs, it’s equally true that our understanding of these doctrines (among others) has been shaped by years of thoughtful, studious individuals who have worked hard to articulate these doctrines in a way that is faithful to Scripture and intelligible to the church. We owe our understanding of these doctrines in large part to the many spiritual ancestors who have gone before us and helped to define biblical Christian orthodoxy.

    The fact of the matter is that nowhere from Genesis to Revelation can you find a verse that says, “Here’s how the Trinity works,” or, “This is how the divinity and humanity of Jesus come together in a single person.” The raw data is there, to be sure. And the Bible certainly does teach these truths. But the synthesis of that data—the comparing, contrasting, and combining of truths taught in the various sections of the Bible—has been the result of much honest questioning, careful study, and intense debate over the years.

    In his book Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine, John Hannah, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, writes, “Theology is made in history.” What exactly does that mean? Well, as Hannah goes on to explain, “Development of doctrine takes place as succeeding generations of Bible scholars discover the truth of the Bible within their contexts and elucidate the wealth of the apostles’ teachings, not going beyond it or contradicting it.”

    So yes, you believe the doctrine of the Trinity because that’s what the Bible teaches. But the language and categories that you use to articulate your belief in the Trinity are the result of a rich tradition of careful biblical scholarship that has been going on for far longer than any of us have been alive. For example, a phrase like “one substance, three persons” is not found in the Bible; however, it has been accepted by the church for many years to be a faithful way of articulating the teaching of Scripture about God’s triune nature.

    This Sunday morning we’ll have the privilege of reciting the Nicene Creed as part of our worship service. And while it might strike you as odd that we would concern ourselves with a man-made creed that was written roughly a millennium and a half ago, the point is that it helps connect us to the heritage from which we come.

    When we recite the Nicene Creed, we confess in solidarity with others in the church of Jesus Christ that we believe what the Bible teaches about some of the foundational matters of the faith. In other words, we’re reminding ourselves of what it means (and has meant for 2,000 years) to be a Christian. Is the Nicene Creed on par with Scripture? By no means! Is it inspired by God? Absolutely not! But this doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful or that it isn’t packed with truth of which we need to remind ourselves regularly.

    So this Sunday as we read this ancient confession together, consider the fact that for hundreds of years, our brothers and sisters in the faith have articulated their beliefs using these very words. Our faith is neither new nor innovative; it is a faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). It’s an antique. And antiques are worth keeping.

    Next week, we’ll unpack some of the highlights of the Nicene Creed.

    ThuThursdayMarMarch12th2015 When Life Is Pure Misery

    What would you say to a man who felt weak and near to death? Whose friends and loved ones had abandoned him? Who felt afflicted, assaulted, and terrorized, with the events of life overwhelming him like a flood?

    Would you tell him he needed to pray to God?

    What if he told you that he’s been praying day and night to God, crying out to him? What if he told you that, as far as he is concerned, it is God who has put him in this dark place, God who assaults and terrorizes him, God who is overwhelming him, God who casts him away?

    Would you say that his theology was wrong, that he needed to have a better concept of the love, mercy and grace of God?

    Let me introduce you to that man: Heman the Ezrahite. All of what I described in the past two paragraphs is packed into his psalm, Psalm 88. He is living in misery and finds no relief in God. Perhaps shockingly, the misery in the psalm is unremitting. It starts in misery (verse 3: “for my soul is full of troubles”), continues in misery (verse 7: “you overwhelm me with all your waves”), grows to more misery (verse 14: “O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?”), and ends in misery (verse 18: “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me”). Unlike so many psalms that start in misery, despair, or anger, it doesn’t end on a joyful, peaceful, or confident note. The psalm is an unfiltered prayer of someone living in pure misery.

    So what would you say to Heman? Here are a few ideas.

    1. Whatever you say, don’t condemn him. God has seen fit to take Heman’s prayer and include it in his Psalter. The Psalms are God’s words, but in a unique way, at their core, they are a series of prayers and meditations that God has written for us, as if to say, “Think like this about me, about yourself, and about the world around you. Talk to me this way.” So we dare not condemn Heman for not having “positive” thoughts.

    2. If you say something, maybe you should commend his faith. He is in misery, but he prays to God daily (verse 9), day and night (verse 1). He boldly pleads God’s honor and not his own (verses 10-12):

      Do you work wonders for the dead?
        Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
      Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
        or your faithfulness in Abaddon [the place of destruction]?
      Are your wonders known in the darkness,
        or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”

    3. Maybe you don’t say anything and just be with him. Maybe you can rectify some of his external problems, but maybe not. He feels cast aside by man and by God; maybe God is using you for his deliverance. Maybe it starts with joining him in his prayers.

    4. Maybe, very carefully, you tell him, “Jesus understands”. Jesus said on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). The Son knows what it means to be abandoned by God and man.

    Are you feeling like Heman or know someone who is? I hope this helps. I wish I could say something like, “Heman, you just need to do this thing or think this thought.” But I don't think that this psalm will allow that. At some point, you hope to tell them (or remind them) about the good news of Jesus Christ. But first, it’s enough to be with them and pray with them.

    ThuThursdayMarMarch5th2015 Whose Crown?
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Humility Worship 0 comments Add comment

    The Bible is full of rich, vivid imagery, one instance of which occurs in Isaiah 28, where the prophet tells us about two crowns. The first is the crown of self, which is sought and celebrated by the spiritually arrogant. The second is the crown of glory, which belongs to the Lord of hosts himself.

    In this passage, the prophet begins by announcing God’s judgment upon his wayward people (a common theme!), and he addresses the haughty, self-absorbed people of God by comparing them to a completely wasted guy who is staggering down the street proudly pretending to be some sort of king by virtue of a faux crown that he’s placed upon his own inebriated head (Isa. 28:1). He’s so hammered that he doesn’t even realize how ridiculous he looks and how foolish he is to be boasting in this empty demonstration of royalty. He’s entirely caught up in the delusion of his own sense of self-importance.

    Yet the delusion won’t last. Just a few verses later, Isaiah says that this crown of pride will be “trodden underfoot” (Isa. 28:3-4). That shiny crown so prominently displayed atop the head that is swollen with pride will be cast into the mud and stomped on. It will be broken and tarnished and revealed as the worthless piece of junk that it truly is.

    Compare that to the second crown which is described as “a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty to the remnant of [God’s] people” (Isa. 28:5). This is no cheap rip-off; it’s the real deal. This crown doesn’t rest on the heads of drunkards; it’s given to the remnant of God’s people—those whom he preserves by his grace. This crown represents not the fading glory of self, but the eternal glory of almighty God.

    Two crowns, one question: Whose are you seeking?

    All too often, I find that the crown I really care about is my own. I want to advance my agenda, serve my desires, celebrate my achievements, and honor my name. I’m like the drunk guy who thinks he’s a king. I love my crown, and I don’t want to take it off. The problem, of course, is that it’s all a complete sham.

    In a recent installment of a long line of television commercials promoting Las Vegas tourism (and, apparently, debauchery), a group of young men is seen gallivanting around the city while hoisting a silver cup-like trophy everywhere they go. They’re in an obvious spirit of joviality and celebration, giving the viewer (and all the on-screen characters who interact with them) the impression that they’ve just won some remarkable sporting championship. At the end of the night, however, the exhausted, haggard-looking group is seen arriving back at the hotel, at which point they return the trophy to a shelf in the hallway, whereupon we discover that this “trophy” is actually nothing more than a mundane decoration that was used to display a bouquet of (now wilted) flowers.

    Apparently I’m supposed to book a flight to Vegas after watching that, but all I’m able to think about is how pathetic one must be to use a cheap hotel decoration to garner the empty praise of strangers!

    And yet that’s exactly what it looks like when I seek my own crown. “Look at me!” I shout to anyone who will listen. “Look at this crown! Isn’t it pretty?” Never mind the fact that it’s a phony that will end up being stomped on. In the moment, it makes me feel significant, and that’s all that matters.

    Time and time again, I need to be reminded that my crown is a sad substitute for the crown that belongs to God. His crown is a truly glorious one that cannot fade. Mine is a worthless trinket that is bound for the mud. And it’s only as my fingers loosen their grip on my own pathetic crown that I am able to receive the incomparably beautiful divine crown of God’s own matchless glory.

    So I ask again: Whose crown are you seeking?

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